After season comes to an abrupt end, baseball seniors depart with increased appreciation for their time as Bears
Late in the evening on Thursday, March 12, members of the Washington University baseball team received word that the season had been cancelled due to coronavirus. Though there had been signs that the Bears’ schedule would likely be cut short—the College World Series had been cancelled earlier that afternoon—players and coaches had been holding out hope that the team would be able to at least finish out the week. The team had just arrived in Tampa Bay, Fla. for a spring tournament. Heartbroken and deeply emotional, the Bears gathered together in head coach Pat Bloom’s condo for one last time.
Like the rest of the University’s spring athletes, the baseball team had been training since the fall. For the many seniors who had poured their hearts and souls into baseball for more than three years, the early and abrupt ending to the season was especially painful. From a competitive standpoint, the Bears were a top-tier team—at one point ranked first in the nation—that had the chance to win the Division III College World Series. Many seniors realized that they had already played their last games of college baseball.
Senior captain catcher Thomas Gardner saw few obvious silver linings to the season ending on such a bitter note. He did, however, elucidate his love for the game of baseball and his love of playing for the Bears. Gardner walked on to the team during his freshman year and blossomed into one of most versatile players on the team. The 2019 regional tournament was a moment that stuck out to him. “I caught all but five or six innings of those five games in the heat, leaving it all out on the fields, not worrying about how my arms or legs were going to feel the next day,” he said. “It was just playing baseball and hanging out with my teammates. Nothing else really mattered.”
Gardner further noted that, though he obviously wanted to win a championship from a competitive standpoint, he would do anything to play just a few more games.
The early end to the season made players realize their love for playing competitive, postseason baseball. “It really makes you appreciate getting to the end of the season and enjoying that, because it’s those moments that are more special than any other points in the season,” said senior pitcher Brian Schutter, another captain.
And thus emerged the one striking positive: For the entirety of the Wash. U. baseball team, the coronavirus pandemic has provided a strict reminder to take advantage of every ounce of time on the field.
Bloom, reflecting on the season, encouraged his team to return next year with even more strength and resolve. “I think it becomes so cliche when coaches have said in the past that you have to value every rep and value every at bat or every inning pinched,” Bloom said. “But now looking back, that played out to be so true, and you just don’t want to have any regrets. And so I guess more than anything, I hope that we come with that perspective.”
The NCAA, in an attempt to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus, has offered athletes the chance to ‘redshirt,’’ adding an additional year of eligibility for all players. For Gardner, Schutter, and many of the other seniors who did not get the chance to play out their final seasons, however, returning to Wash. U. for another season is largely out of the picture. Most seniors not attending graduate school have jobs lined up in early August, and the students who do have an interest in returning to grad school to play more baseball are limited by Wash. U.’s high price tag.
Nevertheless, for the younger generation of baseball players, the virus and corresponding chaos will serve as an imminent reminder to maximize their time as Bears.
The current freshman class, in particular, must adopt such maximization as their credo. Gardner, speaking to the difficulties first-year players faced, noted that “one of the best things about freshman year is to just get thrown in there and mess up, you know, and do something wrong or just fail and then figure it out.” For this year’s freshmen, who next spring still will not have calibrated to college-level competitiveness on the field, capitalizing on every moment of playing time will be especially important, Gardner said.
In a time of limited positive takeaways, Bloom still remained focused on learning from the situation. “I really want for our team next year, too, from a competitive standpoint, to have more of a strength and resolve regarding the importance of making the most of every opportunity that you have,” he said.